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Working as a Contract Geologist in the Canadian Energy Industry post 2014/2015

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

My name is Kurt Ball and I’m starting up this blog because I wanted to talk about some of the challenges I have faced being a junior (wellsite) geologist. Currently, I have been working as a contract geologist and I have been doing this off and on for the past 5 years in the energy sector. Prior to that I was in Australia for 2 years working in mining exploration until the downturn in that industry began.

These are by far the best and the worst career decisions I have ever made. They are the best because I was able to work outdoors in some very remote locations. I was fortunate enough to see wildlife in its natural habitat, meet interesting people from around the world, and experience the freedom which comes with this type of work. Why has it been the worst? For people like me with only a few years of experience under their belt, during rough periods if you are not well set-up with either a company, or a consulting group then things can get quiet. You can send out thousands of resumes and not get a single response, contacts you may have made can disappear with people changing companies, positions, and even careers.

I have experienced the best and the worst twice now, first after the mining industry declined and the second after the decline in the oil and gas sector. What has been difficult was trying to figure out how to find the jobs that were out there. Conventional methods really didn’t seem to work. I sent out hundreds of resumes and made plenty of phone calls and after a year and a half I started to notice a couple of things. First, the internet makes things easy to search and apply to, which is great because from your home you can fire off several resumes and cover letters. Unfortunately, so can everyone else from all over the globe so those who are hiring can end up with 500+ resumes in their inbox and might just look at a handful of them. Second, if you’re not getting a response, over time that can weigh heavily on a person’s psyche. One can begin to question ones self worth, and it can make you frustrated when you’re applying for a position and reading that you need 5+ years experience or a specific niche skill set. One can be pigeon holed by where people only identify you by your most recent work experience. When I returned to Canada, the worst thing I heard (and this happened more than once) was “Oh! so you’re a miner, seen a few of you here” and it didn’t seem to matter that I had 3 years of energy experience working as a roughneck and seismic line worker. I suppose my mistake may have been that, though personally I was in a different place mentally finishing school, I didn’t see or understand the importance of building connections and maintaining those connections long term. I went to Australia for the “life” experience, where I could travel across Australia and Asia while getting work experience. The only work experience I could get was mining but FYI one of the best ways to understand complex 3D geology is in understanding mining since you really get to see the 3D picture when you are modelling and working in a mine pit!

What I have found to help the most, and where I got the most positive experience was through networking either through friends or colleagues and attending industry events like AAPG’s ACE. It’s one thing to just attend but you also must talk to people and not just to those in the exhibitor’s hall. Attend the talks, start up small talk with individuals in the drinks/lunch line, attend the various meetups. A good tip for those who are students or who those want to attend but find prices out of reach - try volunteering. You can sometimes attend the talks and save on the cost of entry. Another way to network is to attend events that your local geology group might have setup like golf or squash tournaments. If you don’t play these games or can’t make the event there is sometimes a dinner, allowing you to make connections with people who may have a contract, or know people looking for additional help.

I’m wondering what other people’s experiences have been like? I’m also interested in learning how other contractors deal with these low times and if they have a trade to fall back on or other businesses? I’m currently doing some investing while working full time until my next contract comes up. I’d like to hear someone else’s thoughts.

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